Existential psychotherapy is a philosophical approach to therapy that works on the basis that conflict within a person is due to that individual’s confrontation with, what are called, the four ‘givens of existence’.
These givens are:
- The inevitability of death
- Freedom and the consequence of it… responsibility
- That we experience the world and all that goes on in it through our own, subjective, emotional viewpoint – in other words we are “existentially isolated”, and
Much of existential thinking begins with Kierkegaard (1813-55) who argued strongly against what he said was a popular misunderstanding (and abuse) of Christian dogma and the so-called ‘objectivity’ of science.
He saw both as ways of avoiding the anxiety that was inherent in human existence. Both provided a structure with which people could make sense of their lives. Truth, he felt, was subjective and could only be discovered by the individual. What is truth to you, is not necessarily the same as truth to me, or to someone else. If people could accept the inevitability of their own death, that truth is a personal thing and not an absolute, and the meaninglessness of their life; and if they had the courage to live with passion and commitment then they would be free from anxiety and, presumably therefore, happier and more contented.
This is one kind of thinking, one kind of philosophy. It permeates all kinds of different approaches to life. There’s probably an existential school of cookery.
In many ways, the balance between rational and romantic, that was the subject of “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” by Robert Pirsig, is about the same thing – the struggle to cope with living ‘in the moment’ and embrace ‘rational’ thinking.
Living ‘in the moment’ is a wonderful idea for people who wish to embrace this positivist approach. One of the common sentiments expressed by them is that we should treat every day as if it was our last, and live it free from anxiety.
So, back to my question… if this WAS your last day, what WOULD you do?